A Camera That Makes Calls

The new Sony Xperia 1 IV really deserves more fans. Unfortunately, the price is too prohibitive

The sleek Sony Xperia 1 IV

By Low Teck Mee

It has been a while since I contributed to this site. Not that I have been out of action, but, there is, to me, not that much happening in the gadget world these days to write about. Few things could get me excited (what more do we really need?), even when I still love my tech toys. Sure, there are stuff constantly coming out, but they are mostly not game-changers, just small upgrades to existing product churns. Digital devices are getting less appealing also because they seem to be everywhere, across all price points. Even luxury/fashion brands, with no history in hi-tech gadgetry, are putting out kit and caboodle that do nothing to enhance their branding. One comes to mind: Louis Vuitton, and their new flashy Horizon earphone (or the supremely-Beng Light Up speaker). Sure, the buds are made by the New York audio firm of Master and Dynamic, but a discerning ear would go for the brand’s MW07 model (which the Horizon is based on, anyway) for less than a third of what LV is asking for, with no loss of audiophile cred. I won’t be surprised that LV would be offering smartphones in time to come.

Still, a monogrammed phone (or any flashily branded) is never an object I’d desire. When it comes to smartphone, I have a happy relationship with the Sony Xperia series for so long, despite the brand’s waning (and them climbing) popularity, that a close friend of mine—an iPhone diehard—even remarked, “actually, I don’t know anyone who uses a Sony phone except you.” True, you don’t see that many Xperias in the hands of phone zombies. But, I have been sold on the Sony handphone (yep, it’s been that long) aesthetic that it’s hard for me to wean myself off it (to be sure, I have used phones from other makers, but I could never decamp). How long? Since Sony sold their phones branded as Sony, way before they went into partnership with Ericsson in 2001 and labelled their products with the ungainly moniker Sony Ericsson. Smartphone users today, probably don’t even remember the joint-venture products (Sony acquired the Ericsson shares in 2012, and today all their consumer and professional merchandise come under Sony Corporation), but my personal history with Sony communication devices goes way, way back—to the Sony CMD Z1 (with the unique fold-down microphone stick) and, my favourite till today, the CMD Z5 (the first music-player phone), released in 2000, both with my favourite feature the Jog Dial. I did say, it’s been long!

For the ken of today’s smartphone users, let’s stick to the Sony Xperia, a more familiar name. As you would have figured, I have been a user of the Xperia phones, too, since its inception in 2008. I have always liked Sony’s minimalist design language for Xperia (a clear departure from the sometimes too gimmicky-looking Sony Ericsson phones), and have remained a firm user since the under-rated X10 of the following year. But it is in the Xperia 1 series that I find Sony offering their most compelling smartphones. In 2019, the company decided to ditch the letters of their previous models (after being criticised for years for the confusing naming convention) with a simple number ‘1’. It has remained their flagship phone, and, more and more, prohibitively expensive top-of-the-line. And now, after three iterations of the ‘1’, their fourth is finally out (pre-ordering was available about a month ago). For those who have not found even a vestige of love for the Xperia 1, the latest Xperia IV will not tug at heartstrings, and worse, they won’t look significantly different from previous versions.

To be frank, there is no reason for me to upgrade to the Xperia IV. I am currently using the Xperia II (I have skipped the Xperia III as I did not think that it significantly trumped the model before), and I am pleased with it; I am, in fact, still holding on to the very capable Xperia 1, which now sits on my bedside table, where it serves as alarm clock and movie screen (with the 21:9 aspect ratio and 4K definition of 3,840 horizontal pixels, a very competent one). The life cycle of mobile phones, as the market research firm Kantar Worldpanel reported in 2019, has been “on the uptrend”: people were, and are, clearly keeping their devices longer. To me, Sony makes lasting smartphones: The Xperia Z Ultra from 2013 that I own is, believe it or not, still working! Normally, I would be intrigued by new phone releases, but I do not quickly succumb to them. The Xperia IV, however, has one thing going for it that I find hard to resist: “the world’s first true optical zoom lens” (even if, to some, is debatable). Although I am the only one among my friends still totting an actual camera (compact) around, I do find an even more adept smartphone-shooter tremendously tempting.

The triple-lens camera (above) of Xperia IV is clearly a draw and, I am certain, the selling point, but it’s the optical zoom (85-125mm) that’s the star. Now, I can depend less on the somewhat inconsistent digital zoom of the past (not just on the Xperia). Some reviewers consider Sony’s claim of being the first to be “brazen”. There are, of course, smartphones with optical zooms before the Xperia IV, such as the iPhone 13 Max Pro, Galaxy S22 Ultra, and Pixel 6 Pro, but it is arguable if optical zoom was actually applicable to the latter three. I generalise here: most phones’ optical zooms are based on a single focal length. If one touts 3X zoom, the image at 3X would be lossless, but not at 1.5, 2, or 2.5 times. The rest are likely digital zooms. This is where the beauty of the Xperia IV lies: actual telephoto camera lens within the 8.2mm-thin body that can protract and retract to zoom in and out (the Xperia III used a similar lens, but it was useful at only two fixed positions), and shoot different proximities to the subject without degrading image quality. In use, the optical zoom is really rather fast, although it is not as responsive as what I am used to on an actual camera.

Two other reasons why I stick with Sony Xperia (other than habit and the familiarity of form) are the now-curiously dated features of a headphone jack and a slot for expandable storage (up to 1TB to boost the onboard of 256GB. Yes, I avoid keeping anything in the cloud). There is, additionally, the phone’s overall design which has not changed drastically since the introduction of their OmniBalance design philosophy of 2012: Minimalist—a bad word these days, I’m afraid—and discreet. I also like the lens placement in the rear. Unlike other makers that prefer massive squares, definitely-noticeable circles, or a bar across, Sony has kept to a clean and simple strip on the left side of the phone. It’s this little tempering with the shape and exterior of Xperia phones that has kept me returning to them, even with the sometimes disapproving looks I get when I hold one in my hand. I like that the Xperia 1 IV is not different in looks from its predecessor (so no one knows I have upgraded, including the missus!), except the eye-watering price. And that it and its past iterations could never be thought to be iPhone killers. A toast to that. And, the optical zoom, of course.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Sony Xperia IV, SGD1,969, in black or purple, is now available at Sony stores. Photos: Low Teck Mee

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